Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor (4. Adagietto)

I don’t talk about classical music much. It’s not because of any inverse snobbery or anything, classical (or should I say, ensemble) music maintains a deeply important place in my creative heart. For every hardcore remix I construct and polish there’s a saxophone quartet notated and scored. Occasionally these stylistic worlds smash together to produce something utterly bonkers, but then again why shouldn’t they? Music is music is music. It’s a place where everything is possible. Still, it hasn’t been lost on me that a music which holds equal as importance to me as folk and popular remains underrepresented here, in my words. It’s a shame, really, because I have much to say. Too much, in fact. But here is where I must tread lightly, as the classical world is a lot less … malleable in its ideas than the polyglot popular world I have been appraising up to this point. There is this perception of the ‘higher art’ that tends to run like a thread through some (though by all means not all) of its institutions which I feel detracts from the majesty of what it could be to people. So while this may be an underwhelmingly short and nuanced attempt to not bite the hand that feeds (whilst chastising it in equal measure), it should at least pad out my philosophy a little.

The fourth movement Adagietto from Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony is one of the finest pieces of the classical canon. It rightfully attracts all the usual superlative romances brought through the richness of its voluminous harmonies. A tide of emotion that slowly erodes all emotional bastions before crushing hearts under the immensity of it’s love. I adore it, though for the sake of this week I could easily have selected Sibelius’ Symphony No.5 (3. Allegro), Copland’s Appalachian Spring, or Pärt’s Summa for Strings. The piece is not important, mostly because my subjective opinion on the fact is just that, subjective. It is not my role to tell you which pieces to like and it is certainly not my place to shape your aesthetic opinion as doing so would put me in a position of power I am ill equipped to hold. Not because I lack skills, I have binders of skills, but because nobody has the right to put themselves in that position. There is no single correct way to listen to this music, yet far too many classicists act as if there is. As if classical music is somehow superior to other styles and within it certain pieces worthy of a higher regard. It’s all rubbish. Like, if you first heard Mahler’s 5th during Death In Venice but knew neither the name nor provenance of the piece then your aesthetic judgement would still be as equally valid as mine. You don’t need to possess the full knowledge of a piece in order to justify your aesthetic tastes. It’s something I feel incredibly strongly about, powerfully so. Classically composed pieces are no different from pop, it’s just that the modes of transmission are different.

Picture 1

Now it may come across as if despondency has fitted me with an axe to grind, but if so I promise it’s only a small one, the kind that that a dormouse could take camping. Likewise, as this is the rant of a wounded animal, full of irrationality, inconsistencies, and untruths, it should be read as nothing more than a cry of pain. *deep breath* Classicists can make you feel awful. They can make you feel small, and worthless even when you are ostensibly one of them. They can look down with suspicion, stuck in a 1980s intellectual holding pattern, terrified that missing the next great art movement will make them *shudder* irrelevant. The fact that irrelevance breeds when ideas stagnate in this way is lost on a great many creative classicists. To some of them, the ideas and sounds of popular and folk musics are twee anomalies that, while quaint in their unrefined nature, are pretty irrelevant within ‘proper’ art. Proper art, that loathed bubble of back-slapping self-satisfaction, content with it’s trivial debates about the location of the avant-garde, as if it matters. It doesn’t, by the way. The musical avant-garde quickly moved into the electronic sphere where it quickly subsumed itself into pop culture. But serious composers will still sit there, eking out techniques devised in the 20s and judging you for writing something different. Something, for want of a better word, pleasant. Like this.

I hate bringing my voice so vividly into this blog. I hate making it personal beyond opinion as it is unprofessional and weak. But I recently had an experience with this form that I love that left me slightly disillusioned. A disappointment in some of its people that will take a few days or weeks to get over. Classical music has some of the most deeply affecting sound ever committed to record, but with that comes this weird culture of superiority that I hate. It has nothing to do with ‘high’ culture or ‘low’ culture and nothing to do with elites or ‘the establishment’. It just boils down to people and empathy. There should be no need to judge and there should equally be no need to be scared of judgement. This form, filled as it is with beauty and love, is for everyone. I guess I’m just impatient for others to realise it.

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for a while now, so why not dip back into the halcyon years by having a read of these related posts:

What’s in a Song?: Bellowhead – Jiggery Pokerwork / Haul Away / Seven Stars

Teaterkoncerten på Gasværket – Come Together

Judge not, lest ye be judged. If you feel the urge to subjectively critique my own musical work you can find it by clicking here.

be my friend. get in touch.

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